Saturday, June 8, 2013

My Crime Beat Column: Crime In The Military

As one might expect, considering military discipline and an institutional sense of order, crime is less prevalent in the U.S. military than in most major American cities.

The Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) is the criminal system of justice applicable to all members of the U.S. military on active duty worldwide. When you raise your hand and volunteer to serve in uniform in defense of the country, you voluntarily relinquish some of your rights and civil liberties.

"Military justice is to justice what military music is to music," Groucho Marx once quipped.

Yet for all that, a small group of military people commit theft, rape, murder and other crimes one associates more with the civilian sector.

A four-person commission led by former Defense Secretary James R. Schlesinger, released their report on the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse case. The report lays the blame squarely on the individual soldiers that committed "acts of brutality and purposeless sadism."

The soldiers were not acting on approved orders or policies, the report said. Schlesinger added that it was a kind of "Animal House" on the night shift. The report also stated that there was also a serious lack of leadership.

"Commanders are responsible for all their units do or fail to do, and they should be held accountable for their action or inaction," the report concluded.

The Army’s CID investigation continues and I think we’ll see more court marshals of soldiers and some resignations up the chain of command.

I’ve been following other military crime stories as well.

A senior chief petty officer deeply in dept as a result of two bad marriages, embezzled $56,000 from the Chief’s Mess (meal) fund aboard the amphibious assault ship Bataan. In another case, an award-winning Navy female first class petty officer was arrested for participating in a drug ring that manufactured and distributed methamphetamine in Hawaii.

Also, there is the case of a senior Defense Department contracting officer and three others who were indicted for corruption in what federal prosecutors say was a scam to award $11 million in contracts to a firm they secretly held financial interests in.

And then there is the crime of espionage. The FBI is conducting an investigation of a Pentagon official who may have leaked intelligence on Iran to Israel, much like the case of Jonathan Pollard, a Navy employee who spied for the Israelis some years ago and is currently incarcerated in federal prison.

The breaking news, as I write this, is the FBI probe may be broader than the Iran leak. The FBI is said to also be looking into whether Pentagon officials leaked classified information to an Iraqi exile group, who in turn may have passed it on to Iran.

Less known, but perhaps a more serious and dangerous case of espionage, involves a terrorist’s confiscated computer. Investigators are looking into the e-mail exchanges between a suspected terrorist arrested in London and a U.S. sailor stationed aboard a ship attached to a carrier battle group that was on patrol in the Strait of Hormuz.

Was this a case of espionage? Did the sailor give information to the terrorists that would aid them in an act of terrorism against Navy ships? I’ll be following this case closely.

My life-long interest in the military stems from my late father, Edward M. Davis, a tough old Navy chief who served as one of the first members of the Underwater Demolition Teams (UDT) in WWII. The UDT frogmen were the forerunners of today’s Navy SEALs. My father ran our house like a Navy command and he instilled in his children a sense of duty, honor and respect for the military.

In a sense, my beginnings in both journalism and government began at the Philadelphia Naval Yard. As a teenager in the mid-1960s, I sold newspapers at the Navy Yard, which lay at the foot of South Philadelphia. Riding in the open back of the newspaper truck, I would pass the fleet of moored ships in the Delaware River and dream of one day joining the Navy, seeing the world and becoming a writer.

I enlisted in the Navy at 17 and served on the aircraft carrier the USS Kitty Hawk (CVA 63) during the Vietnam War. I later spent another two years on a Navy tugboat, the USS Saugus (YTB 780) at the nuclear submarine base, called Site One, in Holy Loch, Scotland.

After leaving the Navy, I did security work as a Defense Department civilian employee for many years. And as a writer, I’ve gone on to cover a good number of stories about the military.

In my long association with the military, I’ve come to know many dedicated and honest men and women who sacrifice personal comforts and freedom to defend our country. I’ve also come across a few self-serving and stupid officers, a few lazy and idiotic managers, and a few crooked soldiers, sailors and civilians.

The Defense Department is the largest company in the world. The Defense Department employs 1.4 million active duty military members, 1.2 million National Guard and military reserve members, and 654,000 civilians, the vast majority of whom are honorably serving the country.

I think it’s a crime that a few greedy and stupid individuals are besmirching the military at a time when soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines are in the forefront of the American-led war on terrorism.

Note: The above Crime Beat column originally appeared in the Orchard Press Online Mystery Magazine in 2004.

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